Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top 10 Records that Changed My Life, Part 1

Happy birthday, my little blog, you are 1 today.

If I had been writing this blog 10 years ago, it would most definitely be a music blog. Of course, something of that nature didn't really exist yet. We had livejournal but the whole RSS thing hadn't really taken off. Anyways, most people here (and many of my IRL friends included) don't realize this but I was a very web 1.0 person and actually had a very well trafficked music site that I ran between 97-99 in the Bay Area. Music was, and still is, a huge part of my life, but something happened in the last 4-5 years or so where I stopped being all that interested in new stuff coming out. I used to spend all my expendable cash on music, and now its rare that I'll buy a new release and only go properly record shopping once or twice a year, and usually in the used section. Of course, I think its natural to connect to music so much when you are young, when you are constantly hearing new things and connecting to a subculture in a meaningful way, and that experience decreases in importance as you get older (and realize that all those bands you loved ripped off older, better bands from years prior). It does get to a point where you've heard it all before, which is how I've found myself primarily interested in really, really old rock and roll records these days. Perhaps the same will happen with fashion one day, where I've really seen it all before, but at the moment it still inspires me and that's why I'm always writing about it.

That said, I still listen to music all the time and find myself going back to those records that inspired me or changed me somehow in my youth. Given that I have (according to my Itunes) 31 full days worth of music (that's 24 hours a day), not counting all my vinyl, I am constantly rediscovering things. I was recently challeged by a friend, to commemorate the end of the decade, to pick the 10 records that changed my life. These are not, by any means, my favorite records, but I think they represent interesting landmarks in the progression of my music tastes, as well as the path I have taken through life. Its an interesting way to sum up your life history, really.

1. R.E.M. - Automatic for the People

I do believe this is the first "alternative" record I ever purchased (on CD). Growing up where I did, music on Top 40 radio in the late 80's and early 90's was mostly R&B and Hip-Hop... you know, Boyz II Men and the like. I did, admittedly, love that stuff. Not denying. Can't say Boyz II Men, TLC, or En Vogue changed my life though. Fortunately, there was the one kid in 5th grade who had the cool older sister who turned him on to stuff like Nirvana and R.E.M. and he, in turn, got the whole class into it. While I appreciated Nirvana, it was R.E.M. that did it for me, this record in particular. While in retrospect this album is really ballad heavy and not the best R.E.M. album ever, I think the pre-teen in me identified with the subtle themes of alientation. I mean, come on, Everybody Hurts? Me too, Michael Stipe, me too. BTW, I was totally NOT aware that Michael Stipe was gay at this point and was convinced we were gonna get married. This was also before he shaved his head and got all anorexic looking, so give me a break.

2. AFI - Answer That and Stay Fashionable

I know, I know, AFI... they suck right? Well, honestly, yeah, they do now, but back when they were a hardcore band and I was 14 and a kinda weird kid stuck in a preppy school full of strangers that hated me, AFI was the BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO ME EVER. Back in about '95 I struck up a friendship with an 8th grader named Nathan (still a friend of mine, he's getting married this year, HI NATHAN) who was in my carpool. Noting my interest in "alternative music" (by this time, Kurt Cobain had died, grunge was all the rage, everyone wanted to go to Seattle and no ones jeans fit properly), Nathan started making me tapes of bands that he liked, local bands that he was going to see at this place Gilman street that I'd heard so much about but was not allowed to go to. First tape he made me was AFI's Answer That and Stay Fashionable backed with NOFX's Punk in Drublic (still one of the greatest album titles of all time). More tapes followed, and soon enough I was with Nathan at my first Gilman show featuring AFI and Screw 32. Soon enough I had sold most of my "mainstream" rock records which included pretty much all the grunge stuff and became very concerned with this so-called phenomenon of selling out (kinda wish I hadn't sold all those records... eventually had to buy back my Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins CDs). Many many many more shows followed and in a 4 year period I probably saw just about every local punk, ska, and hardcore band in the Bay Area, opening up a whole new world and group of friends for me. Most of the people I associate with today had the same kind of experience as a teen, so really, I would have to admit that AFI Answer That and Stay Fashionable changed my life.


Fun side note, I saw AFI for what was the first time in approximately 11 years back this summer at Reading Festival in England. Of all the bands to come out of that period in my life, they are not the one that I am wishing was still around. That said, it was pretty hilarious, and they actually played some songs I knew. Plus, I can drink legally now! Oh, and apparently Davey Havoc is gay now too. WTF why is everyone I had a crush on gay?!?!

nme stage

3. Sleater-Kinney- Dig Me Out

I was unfortunately a little late on the whole riot grrl movement, which is sad because I think I totally would have been into it had it not been before my time. I did eventually get into all those bands a bit later but in retrospect, a lot of that music is pretty terrible. I do cringe a little when bands like Bratmobile come up on my Ipod. That said, Sleater-Kinney was another animal entirely, especially by the time this record came out. Although they were initially lumped in as part of the riot grrl movement, this album is in no way a riot grrl album, and is instead about relationships and heartbreak. I don't think I really understood that about this record until later, but its one of those records that you can listen to over and over again and new layers emerge, both lyrically and sonically. Anyways, once I got turned onto S-K I back tracked and got into all the old Kill Rock Stars and K records stuff and before you knew it I was a women's studies major in college. A lot of good that did me, but still, definitely a big part of who I am today. I will also never forget the Gilman St. Punk Prom that S-K played in '97, up there in my top 10 shows of all time.

4. The Clash - London Calling

This is a pretty stereotypical album to put on your Top Albums that Changed My Life list but it really did! As I was starting to get into punk rock, the Clash in general, and this album in particular, kept getting referenced to by every bands liner notes and every zine's album reviews, so it was only a matter of time until I got around to it. They quickly became my favorite band of all time (though I think I have decided, in later years, that they are not all that musically sophisticated, but nevermind) and there was a period for about a year that they were all I listened to. They were also the entry point into loads of other, mostly British, Clash-influenced groups that I later discovered and for a few years there became a major Anglophile, mod haircut and Fred Perry and copies of the Face magazine... thanks to Joe Strummer and Co. That wore off by the time I actually went and lived there (man... Manchester, what a fucking bummer that place is, false advertising!) but this album and this band were a huge influence on me.

Oh, and one time when I was 19 I met Joe Strummer. A friend of mine called me on his cell at about 1am on the train back from Long Island saying that a friend of his had seen JS at Shout!, a mod club that Heather and I would somtimes frequent. We threw on some clothes and hopped on the subway to find Joe completely shit faced at the bar. We saw him do another 7-8 shots over the course of the evening, ending in a major face plant. It was pretty crazy, and a bit of a heart break. He wrote me a note on a napkin that I have somewhere and taught me how to dance. Please pardon my appearance here, I had literally peeled off my PJ's and apparently got dressed in the dark (whoops, white bra sheer top) and didn't bother to run a comb through my hair.

Joe Strummer taught me how to dance

5. Elliot Smith - Either/Or

I bought this record at the now long gone Lookout! Record shop in Berkeley. I'm not sure why I bought it... I think I had heard a girl I volunteered with talking about it, or maybe because it was on Kill Rock Stars, or maybe because Elliott looks pretty bad-ass on the cover. Anyways, it was totally not what I expected, but I became instantly obsessed with it. Up until this point in my teenage years, pretty much everything I had been listening to was loud and fast and over the top, so it was refreshing to hear something so minimal and beautiful. His shows were always incredibly special and intimate and the audience connected with him in a way that I had never quite experienced. To this day I still am not into very many singer-songwriters, but Elliott really made quiet the new loud for me. Its still the music I put on when I am having a sad day. Elliott's death hit me really hard, even harder than Joe Strummer.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Rachel. I loved reading this. As somebody that's always been a music nerd, I'm fascinated to hear people talk about the albums that changed their life. I'm also impressed that you could narrow it down to 10. Every time I try to do this, I end up with an overwhelming list of 200. Needless to say, I suck at that "Okay, you're stranded on a desert island and you can only bring..." game.

Rachel said...

having trouble with the next 5... its coming though!

alexandra said...

love this post, lady. x

Nathan said...

Hi Rachel. Ah yes, AFI. Looking back, I think I'd have to put that album right up there too even though it couldn't be much further from my musical tastes of the last decade. That was the first cd where I started to really discover a music scene on my own. Up until then everything I listened to was courtesy of my folks (see The Beatles) or my brother (see Nirvana, Primus and Janes Addiction). Still have those old AFI 7" records somewhere too. I should sell those before they become worthless...